The older overshadows the younger – continue to combine? Or, separate?

Dear Carrie

Should I separate or combine, when the older overshadows the younger?

I’ve been looking over the first week of HOD’s Preparing Hearts plans. (They look wonderful!)  I am wondering how to do the Independent sections with two kids? Would they work on the science readings, experiments, and notebooking together? Or, would you have one do the Independent History reading, while the other is working on Science, and then switch? I also have another question for you. My older son overshadows the younger one frequently. They are only a year apart in age but more like 2 years apart developmentally. I have often thought about separating them. Part of me would like to start Preparing in the fall with my 10-year-old and continue with Bigger for my 8-year-old. But, then I will also have a 5-year-old in Little Hearts. How hard would it be to do three programs? I don’t love the ‘overshadowing’ feeling. Or, do you have any other ideas?


“Ms. Please Help Me Decide How to Deal with Overshadowing”

Dear “Ms. Please Help Me Decide How to Deal with Overshadowing,”

I understand that an older child constantly overshadowing a younger child can be difficult. If you choose to keep your children combined, I’d probably have them do the experiments together but schedule the rest to be done separately. But, you could easily do their independent work the other way you described as well.  As far as your question about separating or combining, I pictured my own sons when you mentioned the older ‘overshadowing’ the younger. My older son would often overshadow my younger son if they did their readings and assignments together.

It really depends on how independent your older son is.

In this situation, it really depends on how independent your older son is. My oldest is independent and strong-willed. He’s always very much enjoyed being in charge of his learning (with me being the helper). From a young age, the more of his day he could take over on his own, the happier he was. So, if this is the case with your older son, you could use the first 9 weeks of the school year to “train him” to use the Preparing Hearts guide very independently. You could be doing Bigger and Little Hearts at half-speed during this “training period.” After the training is over, you could bump Bigger Hearts to full-speed, while still keeping Little Hearts at half-speed. Once you hit your stride with Preparing and Bigger, you could then bump up Little Hearts to full-speed. This would be one way to deal proactively with the overshadowing.

I’d require a high standard of work from your oldest during this “training period.”

If you choose to do this, during the “training period,” I’d require a very high standard of work from your oldest. I’d set the timer and keep him on schedule. I would also schedule the places where he is to do his work, as well as when he is to do his work. Have him check off his items and hand them all in. Go over the directions in each box with him as you check his work to make sure he followed them all. This will teach him to read directions carefully.

What You’d Each Still Be Doing

In Preparing, you would still be scheduling some time to do the questioning and discussions scheduled in the Reading About History box. However, he could be doing the readings himself. You would be doing the Bible discussion of the Psalms scheduled on Days 1-2  but he’d be independent on Days 3-4).  You’d also be teaching the Charlotte Mason-style poetry lesson, and most likely doing the Storytime read-alouds. But, the rest of the guide can really be done independently at his age. I did still teach the grammar lesson to my oldest, dictate his passages for spelling, and do the DITHR discussions together on alternating days as scheduled. Either option would work! This is just some food for thought on one way to overcome the overshadowing for good!




Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors

Dear Carrie

Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors

Today was my son’s first day doing Bigger Hearts. He loved it, and so did I! He prayed prayers of thanksgiving to God at snack time and thanked me several times for homeschooling him. What a blessing!!! So, my question is about spelling errors. We did dictation, and he capitalizes letters that should be lowercase. Also, he writes letters backwards and forms them from the “bottom up.” Does he need to memorize spelling rules? He did that in the past, but it hasn’t really helped. Also, for any notebooking, Bible verse writing, etc. I was intending on making him do his “best” writing – correct capitalization, punctuation, neat handwriting. Today, when I did that, he almost cried! He said his teacher at school just let him write it his way. What do you recommend? Always their “best” work except journaling, or only the very best for certain things?

“Ms. Please Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Spelling Rules and Writing Errors,”

I’m so glad that you had a good first day with Bigger Hearts. What a sweet story about your son’s prayer at snack time. That just blesses a mother’s heart, doesn’t it?!? As far as your question about spelling rules and errors, the spelling lists in Bigger Hearts are each designed around a word pattern (short ‘a’, short ‘e’, short ‘i’, etc.) Then, as you go along the patterns get into long vowels, vowel digraphs, etc. This is the way almost all spelling texts, public school or homeschool, are set up. We made our word lists from the Dolch and a large combination of other high frequency word lists. The goal in Bigger Hearts is to get kids to visualize the correct spelling and formation of letters in their mind.

Choosing Between Spelling Lists and Dictation Passages

If your little guy is still making errors like capitalizing letters in the middle of words and reversing letters, then he won’t be ready for studied dictation. Even if he can spell the words on the spelling lists with the right letters, if the letters aren’t written correctly (lowercase and facing the right direction), then he needs more practice with the spelling lists. He also needs to experience success!

What Charlotte Mason Has to Say About Spelling and Writing Errors

Charlotte Mason says one letter written correctly is better than a whole line of letters done incorrectly. So, I would go systematically through the spelling as it is set up in Bigger. I would do each of the cards and activities in the spelling box daily, taking a year to go through them all. Then, I would start dictation next year. The error of habitually forming the letters incorrectly takes time to undo, and if there are other learning issues there, it may never go away completely. But, you may surprised by his progress over time of following Bigger’s spelling lessons. I would encourage you to give it a try this year and see.

Inventive Spelling in Public Schools

As hard as it may seem, there are many public school teachers who don’t require the right spelling or correct copying of words by their students (often because they have too many kiddos in the class, or they have been taught that inventive spelling errors are okay). Either way, because of this, there are many children who are still using inventive spelling in middle school and high school! Inventive spelling has its place with little ones, but it is not meant to go on and on, or it will be habit forming. It does sound like this is part of the problem with your little honey.

What is the purpose for learning spelling words?

To me, it was a dawning to realize that many spelling programs or exercises where children are allowed to use inventive spelling, result in helping the child visualize the incorrect spelling! Eventually, the mind has seen words spelled wrong so many times that the wrong spelling looks right! Spelling is not as much of a “knowing how to spell difficult words” exercise as it is a “learning to see the word correctly in your mind and transfer it correctly to paper” type of exercise. Ask yourself, “What is the purpose for learning spelling words?” If kiddos can’t write them correctly on paper, does it matter that they can spell them orally? In life we are not called to orally spell words very often.

You can improve this pattern of spelling by consistently requiring correct copywork.

So, the best way to start correcting this pattern is by requiring slow, steady copywork from a model that is written correctly. You may need to write what he is to copy right on the paper and leave space underneath each line for him to copy directly beneath your text (matching it letter for letter). If your little guy is in tears over the amount of writing, then only have him copy the beginning portion of the text correctly, and then you can write the rest of it for him. A little bit done correctly is better than a whole lot done incorrectly. Over time, gradually increase the portion of the copying that he does, and decrease the part you do! You will see fewer and fewer errors!

Over time, steady practice with copywork will help your son visualize the correct spelling of words.

I would encourage you to see if you agree with what I’ve shared above. I know it was a “lightbulb” moment for me to read about the Charlotte Mason philosophy of spelling and copywork. It made much sense to me, as all of the students I’d had in school who didn’t spell well had trouble seeing the correct spelling. They couldn’t tell the correctly spelled words from the incorrectly spelled ones. Copywork and steady practice in visualizing correct spellings will help over time, but you will need to give it a year to really make a significant difference.


Inventive spelling… a do, or a don’t?

Dear Carrie

Inventive Spelling… a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’?

I’m doing Beyond Little Hearts with my 7 year-old son. Occasionally, he will write something on his own, which will include a mix of properly spelled and misspelled words. I always praise him for his work, and I don’t make a point to show him his mistakes. However, for school I’ve noticed most of his writing is copywork. I know Charlotte Mason really stressed the importance of it. What were her thoughts on independent writing? Should I encourage him to write his own sentences and simple stories? I see that that is not being done in the Beyond lessons yet. Is that something that should be downplayed right now? What are your thoughts on this? Would allowing inventive or phonetic spelling undo the good work of copywork? Basically, is inventive spelling a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’?


“Ms. Please Help with Inventive Spelling”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Inventive Spelling,”

Whether inventive spelling is considered a ‘do’ or a ‘don’t’ is actually a common question! So, I’m glad you asked. As far as Charlotte Mason goes, she did not encourage original writing in the younger years. This was because she wanted the children to develop the habit of seeing words spelled correctly (mainly through copywork).

The habit of seeing words spelled incorrectly and writing them incorrectly is a difficult one to overcome.

In my 11 years of public school teaching days, the new philosophy was getting kiddos to write as much as possible and all of the time… and don’t worry about the spelling. Inventive spelling was “in,” and children wrote volumes of incorrectly spelled work, which I could never get on board with!   As the years passed, teachers were discovering exactly what CM found… that the habit of seeing words spelled incorrectly and writing them incorrectly is a difficult one to overcome. While some kiddos are naturally good spellers, the rest of the kiddos were developing terrible spelling habits and having no sense at all of what “looked right” anymore. So, when I headed into homeschooling and read more of CM’s philosophy, it really made sense to me in regard to inventive spelling in particular.

In general, I don’t correct “free-time” writing.

With my own kiddos I do not discourage them from writing original stories and sentences, and they all do it on their own during free time. Often great literature inspires them to be creative writers on their own. I don’t correct their “free-time” writing. Instead, I just try to compliment them on the content. If there is a glaring spelling error, I may point that out to be fixed.

Early writing in school is kept to the form of copywork, so inventive spelling is not used.

During school-time, we keep their early year’s writing practice to copywork. So, we do not use inventive spelling. Then, in grade 4 and on up, we begin moving onto some original composition, as planned in the Heart of Dakota guides. I do require correct spelling for school-related work. I’ll often write their ideas on a markerboard to be copied correctly. Likewise, I do check every paper they do during school time for spelling. Then, I do require correction. I write the correct spelling in pencil above the incorrect word (or in the margin). The kiddos then copy my spelling and erase my word, so only their corrected word remains.

There are many ways to approach inventive spelling, but the CM way has made the most sense to me.

I realize there are many ways to approach inventive spelling and that the CM-style of teaching spelling is just one way. But to me, it has made the most sense of any that I’ve tried.



Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts

Dear Carrie

How can I help my 2nd grader grow into the amount of writing planned in Bigger Hearts?

My son is in 2nd grade and doing HOD‘s Bigger Hearts for His Glory. He loves it all, except the amount of writing. He does poetry copywork every day and sometimes Bible verses. Additionally, he writes within his science notebooking, dictation, and sometimes history activity writing. I switched him to doing Rod and Staff 2 orally because he couldn’t handle the writing. He also does one sheet daily from Abeka’s language arts. All of this together is too much for him. He is overwhelmed, and his handwriting is getting worse. I would say in a day, he does the Abeka sheet and one other area mentioned above. I’ve been doing Rod and Staff 2 with him orally. I placed him in Bigger Hearts, and I think it is the right placement. But, how can I help him grow into the amount of writing he should be doing?


“Ms. Please Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts”

Dear “Ms. Please Help My 2nd Grader Grow into the Amount of Writing in Bigger Hearts,”

First of all, take a moment to rejoice that your kiddo is doing well and enjoying Bigger overall. That is a wonderful thing! Next, I just want to encourage you that many kiddos struggle with writing of ANY sort. It is something to grow into, just like learning to read or learning to do math problems.

To reduce the amount of writing, I recommend doing most of Rod and Staff orally.

As far as English, there’s no need to do Abeka in addition to Rod and Staff. So, I’d pick one or the other. Since your little guy doesn’t enjoy writing, I’d choose Rod and Staff, as it is easy to do orally. In the Introduction to Bigger, I actually recommend doing almost all of Rod and Staff orally, and only assigning one small portion to be done in writing each day. So, you’re actually doing Rod and Staff the way we intended by doing it almost all orally!

We rotate assignments to keep the amount of writing in balance each day.

Next, in the daily plans, we actually rotate the writing assignments around, so you’re not doing all of those writing assignments on any one given day. So, make sure you’re following the plans as written, and that will help you not to get overloaded with too much writing.

Try reducing the amount of writing by omitting the optional poetry copywork.

As far as writing activities go, you’ll need to keep the scheduled dictation. However, you can reduce the amount of writing by omitting the poetry copywork. In Bigger Hearts, the poetry copywork is only suggested but not scheduled daily or required. If your little one is doing cursive, then the poetry copywork could be skipped. I know that we didn’t do it with my second son, and it was fine.

Other Suggestions for Lessening the Amount of Writing

That will leave one other writing something each day to be done (either copying a Bible verse, doing a history notebook assignment, doing a science notebook assignment, or doing a science experiment form). With each of those assignments, you can lessen the amount of writing by writing the beginning part of a sentence or even a sentence or two for your son. Then, just have your sweetie finish the rest. You can gradually move up to requiring a little more of it to be written by the student until you eventually work up to full-speed by the end of the year. Make sure not to do more than one vocabulary word either (and you can even do the writing for your student on that one, taking dictation, until he can work up to doing it himself).

Many kiddos need to grow into the amount of writing required, so just ease into it to find success!

Writing will always be an area that takes some growing into for MANY kiddos. No matter what program you use, there will be writing required. Just allow your child to ease into it, gradually moving up as he’s able, and you’ll eventually find success!


P.S. Looking for ideas for going half-speed in Bigger Hearts or in Preparing Hearts with a child for other reasons?  Click here to find some half-speed options with daily language arts and math!

How can I help my highly distracted son focus better?

Dear Carrie

How can I help my highly distracted son focus better?

Let me first say that I LOVE BIGGER!!! This is our first year, and I just love it! Thank you, Carrie!!! Now, here’s my problem. My son is 9, and he is “highly distracted.” I have never discussed this with a doctor. He is not hyperactive. However, he has a terrible time focusing on “seat work,” like Math, English, and Copywork. He will daydream and fiddle constantly. Most days, he has not completed his work by dinner. I do not believe it is an obedience issue. He even has a hard time focusing on his “play.” Oftentimes, he will tell me that he has a “story” in his head while he is playing with Legos, but his brain won’t stay with the story. It keeps wandering. He gets very frustrated when this happens. I definitely think he has a problem. What can I do to help my highly distracted son?


“Ms. Please Help with Ideas for My Highly Distracted Son”

Dear “Ms. Please Help with Ideas for My Highly Distracted Son,”

As kiddos get older, they often settle down some, and also learn to cope better with their various areas of strength/weakness. I remember when my oldest son was in 7th grade (aged 12 turning 13), that the change for him from grade 6 to grade 7 was markedly different! While he was highly distracted and always on the move in grade 6, by grade 7 he was steadily improving in this area. So, I’ll encourage you that time is on your side.

I can empathize with you and your highly distracted son having trouble with focus!

My second son is more of a highly distracted child, unless he really gets into his task. Then, he’s a single task child, who cannot be interrupted (or even hear anyone else it would seem)! I have to strive not to repeat myself with him all day long! Focus is his hardest issue! My third son used to fall off the couch during our lessons several times a day, just because he was such a squirmer. So, I can empathize!

We find these things to be quite necessary for highly distracted children to maintain better focus.

Over the years, we have found certain things to be quite necessary for highly distracted children to focus better. First, we keep lessons short, as in 15 minutes or less. Second,  we vary activities between oral and written work. Third, we try to do the most difficult thing first or second in the day. Fourth, we set the timer (one that doesn’t tick out loud) and put it near the child. Fifth, we sit next to the child for his/her hardest subject. Sixth, we have a quiet room for working that is away from distracting sounds (i.e. phones ringing, music playing, computer sounds, television noise, etc.). At our house this ‘quiet room’ rotates to wherever the rest of the people are not. Seventh, we break up the day with recess, lunch, computer time, etc., so their work is not all in a row.

Finally, we find touch can help highly distracted kiddos refocus. For example, if your kiddo is daydreaming, instead of speaking, just walk past him and rub or pat his back. This helped mine refocus and get back to work. I also will sometime walk by and just point to the timer, without speaking, to draw his attention to that as a means of refocusing. Anyway, you are not alone on this, and boys seem to have it even more than girls. Almost all of the boys in my third/fourth grade public school classrooms were this way too! I wrote the Heart of Dakota guides while homeschooling some of my own highly distracted kiddos, so hopefully the design of the plans will be a help as well!